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Personal PAC to honor Bennett, Kaplan-Perkins
by Liz Baudler

Personal PAC intends to honor two champions of LGBTQ causes at their luncheon on Monday, Oct. 30. Chicago and Midwest Human Rights Watch Director Jackie Kaplan-Perkins has been with HRW for the past two years, while Khadine Bennett has worked with the ACLU since 2008. Both are humbled to be honored, ( Michelle Obama's former Chief of Staff Tina Tchen is the other honoree ) and feel that the work they do in their respective roles has taken on a new urgency in the wake of Trump's election.

"I can't imagine any time working for a more important organization than this time," said Kaplan-Perkins, a longtime activist for women's and LGBTQ rights, said about HRW. "It has brought together everything that is important to me."

"I think the thing that keeps me here is the fact I still continue to grow, and have the space to really expand the program and kind of change with the times," said Bennett, who became the director of Advocacy and Intergovermental Affairs for ACLU Illinois in January. "Starting with when Trump was elected, between then and probably August it was just non-stop, we were fighting so many things. Things that were coming in from the federal government, things on the state level, talking to community folks who were really concerned, and talking as our staff trying to figure out what this administration meant for our litigation and our advocacy work and our legislative work."

Bennett can count a recent win with the passage of HB 40. "That's been years in the making, where we had a Republican governor sign a bill that would allow poor woman to have full reproductive health coverage that includes abortion," she said. "It was really great to see how many folks across the state took action because they felt like this was the right thing to do. We heard in at least one clinic, the day after the bill was signed into law, people went to the clinic because they need this coverage. So you know, this is a bill that is not about politics. It's about women being able to have full access to reproductive health care regardless of insurance. "

The two admire their organizations' commitments to broadly viewing an issue. Kaplan-Perkins remembers visiting Brazil in the wake of the Zika epidemic and then coming back to Chicago to launch a report on intersex rights.

"We looked at [Zika] from a women's rights Perspective, because women don't have access to contraception and abortion. But we're also looking at it from a children's rights perspective, because the children who are impacted by Zika are not getting the resources they need, and an environmental perspective," she explained. "I went on this trip two and half years into my job, and then literally came back the next week to do the intersex report launch. Having to switch gears and to look at the intersex community from a children's rights perspective, and then the sort of dotted line between the LGBT and I...it's just very powerful to be able to do that. I'm glad I get to work for an organization that has that sort of depth and range of understanding of what human rights are."

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Bennett says "her client is the constitution", and that she often works across issues. "One of the things I say is that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, especially in our work, where one day I could be talking to someone who's anti-LGBT, anti-reproductive rights, but then when I go talk to them about another bill that's privacy related they're on board," she said.

Kaplan-Perkins sees overlap between her career in lesbian and women's rights activism and her current position. "I certainly can bring a lesbian voice, " Kaplan-Perkins said of her role at HRW. "It shows how valued that is within the organization, and I think it's given me the opportunity to bring along people from the LGBT community who may have been more single-focused. The days of just thinking about marriage are over. We have to be looking at how everything is impacting how we all work together. I'm hopeful that I can help bridge that gap between different communities that I've had the opportunity to work in that and that I've spent time in, that I live in."

Bennett, an LGBTQ ally, feels her background motivates her work. "I am the first person in my family to go to college," she said. "We did come from a pretty working poor background and moved around a lot. I have been homeless, I am an immigrant. I'm a black woman. So when I do this work, I bring myself into it, and I see the value in that. It's good, to have the background and perspectives that I have, because for me it makes the issues more human, and when I work on difficult bills that take forever to pass or get me frustrated, I know at the end of the day it's worth it because it's something that would help my grandmother or my mom or my brother."

Her experiences have taught Kaplan, who values learning from her heroes, her strengths "I've always said I fall in love easily, luckily not with women, but with issues," she joked. "And I think one of the things that has happened with age is that I really started to embrace my own values. I am probably not the person to send to a war-torn conflict to interview people who are victims because I don't speak the language, I don't have that knowledge. But I do know enough to know that my passion and curiosity and my willingness to ask people to support has real value and can be helpful."

She reflects on how she's learned that people come from different places. "When I was 22 and 23, I just couldn't understand how everybody didn't see the world as we did. You learn that people have a lot happening. I think at the end of the day why I love being a development person is that I really enjoy people. I enjoy getting to know people and their stories. If you can match that their story with something that's compelling for them to support, that's great. And also, it's really OK if you can't."

Bennett thinks figuring out her skillset helped her better understand the advocacy landscape. "We need litigators, we need those of us who do policy, we need the community folks, we need legislators that are progressive," she said. "I don't ever want to be stuck in this idea of this is how I've been doing it forever, so that's the right way."

Both women love the fact that their jobs strengthen their connections to community groups.

"I've really spent my life working with community based organizations and certainly locally based organizations, and I think what's been really empowering about working for Human Rights Watch has been this idea that we get to be a platform for a lot of these organizations," Kaplan-Perkins said.

"When you have a win, either a litigation win or a legislative win, there needs to be that community connection so that those wins can be implemented, and I think that's been a fun part of the work," said Bennett.

The two honorees are united in their belief for reproductive rights, but also in their desire to have the issue be definitively resolved in favor of choice.

"It's really interesting, right?" Kaplan said when asked about her position. "I'm a lesbian who adopted my son. People have asked me, how can you be pro-choice when you've adopted a son? Obviously, his birth mother didn't choice abortion and I'm eternally grateful for that. But to be very clear, in Russia, where he was born, abortion was completely affordable and legal and she made her choice, and I'm thrilled that she made the choice that she made. What I'm talking about is all women along the economic spectrum being able to have agency over their body and their medical decisions. This is the issue that I grew up on, this is the issue that is incredibly important to me. If you told me that I would be able to get married but I was still going to worry about whether my son or whoever he partners with has choice about her reproductive health, I'd be flabbergasted."

Bennett urges people to continue to support local organizations like Personal PAC and Chicago Abortion Fund. "I don't remember not being pro-choice," said Bennett. Though she grew up as a Seventh-Day Adventist, she also saw her grandmother raising 8 kids by herself and her mother, who had Bennett at 19, struggling with being a young parent.

"I was always the person asking about why women couldn't be preachers and why we have to obey men," Bennett laughed. Her experience was also influenced by early activism in California and volunteering for a post-abortion support hotline.

"Having the space to talk through in a non-judgmental way that whatever you were feeling was validated kind of reinforced my belief in being truly pro-choice, where there is no judgment around what women do," Bennett said. "I hope to be in a society where the choice to have a child isn't based on money or daycare, where we have a society where you can just decide, you know, I'm not ready to be a parent, that there's no stigma."

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